Jax City Council prefers darkness not light

The Jacksonville City Council is poised to to shoot down legislation that would make it easier for the public to understand the working of city government.
Councilman Tommy Hazouri, who has morphed into a lapdog for Mayor Lenny Curry, led the assault on the bill during a Rules Committee meeting last week.
He was joined by Council President Aaron Bowman, who also is in the hip pocket of Curry as well as the JAX Chamber, and council members who should know better, like Greg Anderson.
The Rules Committee defeated the bill 8-0, and the full council is scheduled to take it up Tuesday night.
The legislation was filed by Councilwoman Anna Lopez Broche and grew out of the work done by a task for on trasparency that she appointed while she was council president.
I was one of the volunteers who served on that task force, and we saw first hand how difficult it is for members of the public to have access to such things as emails to council members that are public record, the interactions between council members and highly paid lobbyists and to follow the money game played at City Hall between big-time donors and elected officials.
The Curry administration has been notoriously slow at providing public records, which has reinforced the need for more transparency at City Hall.
But members of the Rules Committee babbled on about “scaring” off contractors who might do business with the city, “gotcha” legislation and, as Bowman put it, impugning the “ethics” of city officials.
No, this needed legislation would simply make city government more accessible to the public it serves.
And it should be pointed out that Bowman, who was chosen as the incoming council president as the task force met, couldn’t find time to meet with the task force.
Several invitations extended to him were ignored.
Yet even with his busy schedule as council president, he found time to go to the Rules Committee, which he is not a regular member of, to rail against the legislation.
Makes one wonder, doesn’t it.

Why the TU is wrong on Curry

My former colleagues in the Times-Union editorial department have written yet another glowing paean about Mayor Lenny Curry.
They continue to pull the shade down over their eyes and ignore the light.
For starters, the editorial board’s repeated drumbeat that Curry solved the city’s public employee pension problem is wrong.
What Curry did was secure passage of the largest tax hike in the city’s history, one that will conveniently be paid for by future generations, not those of us who actually allowed the debt to accumulate.
Can you imagine the squawking that would have come from the editorial board if former Mayor Alvin Brown had proposed such a tax hike and just kicked the can down the road for today’s children to pay when they are adults?
The editorial board, in its latest Sunday installment of let us praise Curry, reflects on how much has been accomplished during his three years in office.
The city’s murder rate is still out of control. When Curry ran for office, he blamed Brown for that unacceptable statistic. Now the Curry line goes that it’s the fault of a “tiny” percentage of gang bangers who are doing the killing.
The Jacksonville Landing still stands as an embarrassment to the city’s Downtown.
The Shipyards property remains undeveloped.
There are still no concrete plans for the old City Hall and County Courthouse sites.
The city’s poorer neighborhoods remain underserved.
No, not all is hunky-dory in Jacksonville during Curry’s reign.
The editorial board also heaps praise on City Council President Aaron Bowman for being joined at the hip with Curry.
I don’t see that as a good thing. I see it as dangerous and a continuation of putting people who owe fealty to Curry in every position of power.
I can only surmise that the TU editorial board is trying to establish an argument that Curry should sail to re-election next spring without a serious challenge.
That’s not going to happen. There will be a serious challenger. Only then will the difficult issues facing Jacksonville be the subject of thorough debate and not glossed over with fluff.

Solitude in the Okefenokee

Earlier this week, before the cold front arrived but when its precursor had brought overcast skies, a biting wind and a dampness that chilled, I went to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
I entered the park at the eastern entrance near Folkston and found that I pretty much had the park to myself. It was glorious.
I headed to the Chesser Island Boardwalk and the Owls Roost Tower. There wasn’t another person on the one-and-a-half mile walk to the tower and back. The only sounds were the songs of birds and the wind blowing through the trees.
The intended purpose of the trip was to take photos with my new camera, but the weather, which I suspect was why no one else was there, didn’t cooperate.
The hour spent alone at the top of the tower in contemplation drinking in the beauty of the swamp was a gift.
A lesson learned: Never give up on finding a good photo. On my return, there was a splashing sound in the marsh beside the boardwalk. Three raccoons were busily grooming each other.
I got what I had come for — peace and a photo recording a memory.

JaxPort will demand to go deeper

JaxPort’s deep dredge scam won’t stop with deepening the St. Johns River shipping channel from 40 feet to 47 feet.

If the port’s current project is completed — hopefully a lawsuit in federal court will stop it — JaxPort’s tune will change that 47 feet is enough; instead 50 feet or 52 feet or 54 feet will be needed to handle the cargo ships that keep getting bigger.

Here’s now it works:

It was just three years ago that PortMiami dredged its channel in Biscayne Bay to 50 feet, destroying critical coral reefs and seagrass beds along the way.

According to the Miami Herald, Port Miami is already back asking for more — deeper and wider.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers accepts some blame for environmental damage in Biscayne Bay but makes the excuse that the dredge was hurried as part of the federal government’s push to get infrastructure work done.

Don’t look now, but JaxPort’s dredge was also part of the hurry-up plan, and environmental concerns, especially mitigation, were given short shrift.

If you think the flooding from Hurricane Irma was bad, just wait until the channel goes to more than 50 feet in depth.

And remember all of this — at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money — is being done by an unelected board.

Signs of rebirth

It’s been one month since Hurricane Michael ripped through Roaring Creek Farm.

Some progress is being made in cleaning up the debris from a thousand toppled trees although I still think it will take close to one year to finish the job.

Nature is  renewing itself.

Fresh green leaves are beginning to reappear on the trees that had been stripped by the 130 mph wind.

And in a bit of an oddity for November, blooms have burst open on some of my plum and peach trees. I don’t know if they were confused by the storm or the warmer than usual fall weather.

I had feared the wild turkeys that call the farm home had not survived, but plots planted with chufa show otherwise as within the last week turkeys have torn the ground to get at the  chufa’s tubers.

There are fresh deer tracks, and I spotted a covey of quail this past weekend.

The beauty of Roaring Creek Farm is returning slowly. The road ahead is long, but we will get there.


What to do? What to do?

Mayor Lenny Curry and his JEA board buddies are in a pickle.

Or maybe a bind.

Or a jam.

At the very least they are face to face with a conundrum.

If JEA’s board names Aaron Zahn the utilities’ next CEO, even if he is the most qualified of the candidates for the job, which he isn’t, the cries will be loud that the fix was in from the beginning, that Curry was pulling the strings of hand-picked puppets he appointed to what’s supposed to be an independent authority to select Zahn, Curry’s friend and supporter.

Even though Zahn is going up against other candidates with much stronger resumes, one board member said the interim CEO deserved to make it to the final round because of his “passion” for the job.

Passion is a good thing, but it has its limits as a qualification for a job.

For example, Curry has a passion for football, but that doesn’t qualify him to coach the Jaguars.

There’s another strange twist in this intriguing episode. The board is considering making background checks on the candidates simply a “pass/fail” affair because otherwise details would be part of the public record.

That certainly leaves a very big “hmmm” in the room.

And Election Day added another  ingredient to the brine this pickle is curing in.

Almost three-quarters of Jacksonville’s voters approved a straw ballot measure that said voters should have a say in whether the city-owned utility is sold, an underlying theme of this whole drama about the control of JEA.

A conundrum indeed.



Hope after the storm

When Hurricane Michael carved its disastrous path across the Florida Panhandle, the eastern edge of the eye moved directly over Roaring Creek Farm.

The 130 mph winds toppled a thousand longleaf pines and 100-year-old hardwoods.

The creek-carved bottoms that lace through the property are now a tangled mess.

The morning after the storm I drove to the farm from my home in Jacksonville to check for damage.

The closer I got the havoc left behind by Michael intensified. Quincy was hurt but not as badly as Gretna.

I dodged toppled trees on U.S. 90 to make my way past Mount Pleasant and Oak Grove.

The dead-end road to my farm was blocked by downed trees and power lines.

I scrambled through the wreckage until I could peer around a corner: Our cabin and barn were still intact.

At that moment, even though the farm had been left scarred by Michael, I knew we were luckier than so many who lost much more.

We are now into week four of the cleanup. The work is likely to take a year.

A young forester who works with us left me with these words after seeing the damage: “Nature has a way of healing itself.”

I’m already starting to see signs of that. The birds are back, and there’s evidence that the deer and turkey are as well.

I’ve spotted one of my favorite animals several times – a silver fox squirrel who survived the howling winds and falling trees.

Trees left standing but with most of their leaves stripped off are beginning to bud.

There is still beauty at Roaring Creek Farm.

During one of the nights after the storm passed, the sky was clear and moonless. The stars sparkled so brightly that even the Milky Way was clearly visible, stretching across the horizon.

And the sunsets over the farm’s pond are still mesmerizing.

It will take time, but nature will heal itself.